January 23, 2021

The Road Goes Ever On…

Note from CM: This will be the last discussion post on Internet Monk. I will post one more administrative post tomorrow, with information and links about the new archive site and other sites of interest that I will encourage Internet Monk readers to check out. I will also have information about an email list so that readers of the blog can keep in touch with one another in days to come.

• • •

It is thus, if there is any rule, that we ought to die–neither as victim nor as fanatic, but as the seafarer who can greet with an equal eye the deep that he is entering, and the shore that he must leave.” (E. M. Forster)

This was Michael’s final post on Internet Monk: Feb. 10, 2010.

A brief word from Michael

The ultimate apologetic is to a dying man.

That is what all those “Where is God?” statements in the Psalms are all about. They are, at least partially, invitations to Christians to speak up for the dying.

All the affirmations to God as creator and designer are fine, but it is as the God of the dying that the Christian has a testimony to give that absolutely no one else can give.

We need to remember that each day dying people are waiting for the word of death and RESURRECTION.

The are a lot of different kinds of Good News, but there is little good news in “My argument scored more points than you argument.” But the news that “Christ is risen!” really is Good News for one kind of person: The person who is dying.

If Christianity is not a dying word to dying men, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.

What is your apologetic? Make it the full and complete announcement of the Life Giving news about Jesus.

• • •

• • •

This is adapted from one of my earliest posts on IM: November 2009.

My precious Internet Monk friends,

In the classic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan pictures his travelers arriving at the “Delectable Mountains,” where shepherds tend their sheep. These mountains have gardens, orchards, vineyards, and fountains of water from which the pilgrims drink and wash themselves. While not the final destination, the Delectable Mountains are described as Immanuel’s Land, standing within sight of his City, a place of relief for pilgrims who are weary and faint on the way.

Joy must not be reserved for the end of the journey. We must also find vistas “within sight of the City,” where we can get some respite from our toilsome trek, where we can anticipate the celebration to come and rest for the journey’s final leg.

Internet Monk has been such an inn on the journey for me, and I’m thankful so many others have joined me here over the years. Here at IM, many have found an oasis in the wilderness, a place of respite and recovery from bad religion and other stresses of life on a long and winding road.

I have learned something of my own propensity for wanting to give up when the journey gets long and hard. My energy wanes. I get discouraged and angry, feeling defeated and hopeless. I withdraw into a cocoon of self-pity. At times I self-medicate with food, naps, alcohol, or time-wasting mindless diversions. The simplest task sometimes appears as if it will require a gargantuan feat of strength. The darkness can get deep, the road long, prospects for arriving at the destination dim.

At such times I need a glimpse of the City. An inn at the side the road. A warm welcome, a hot meal, a pleasant conversation, a friend’s embrace. A few moments of “gaudete.” A song to lift the heart. An encouraging word. A scenic overlook that puts this small patch of difficult trail in perspective.

Thank God for this community that Michael Spencer started and handed off to me in 2010. Thank God for each of you, my fellow pilgrims, who have stayed, who have left and returned, who have popped in occasionally, and who have contributed to the ongoing conversation about what it means to live a fully human life shaped by Jesus.

Inevitably, however, it is time to move on, to embark on the next leg of the journey, to move ever closer to the Celestial City. It is not easy to arise, to say farewell to this hospitable place, to open the door and step onto the path once more. But this we must do.

The Apostle Paul packed a few words to help us on the next stage of our pilgrimage:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In the midst of all the imperatives in this text, you’ll find a sweet center of promise — “The Lord is near.” There is a word to keep us going to the end.

So, on this bittersweet day, join me in taking a few moments to rejoice. Be gentle with yourself and others. Cast your worries on the Lord. Say a word of thanks when you pray. Receive his gift of peace. Above all, recognize that no journey is taken alone. Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

Breathe. Take a quick look back and give thanks. And then, let us move forward in the peace of God that guards our lives in Christ.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

• J.R.R. Tolkien

Comments

  1. Pellicano Solitudinis says

    Chaplain Mike, you started the Tolkien quotefest.

    “I don’t want to leave. All the same, I’m beginning to feel that if we’ve got to go on, then we’d best get it over.”

    Namarië, dear friends.

  2. David Cornwell says

    My senior year in high school we read a brief passage from Pilgrim’s Progress for a lit class. I liked it so well I checked out the book and read it during my lunch periods until finished. In some ways it helped form me spiritually for next milestone in my life, my freshman year in college.

    It’s funny because I always find myself drawn to roads and paths in my photography. A narrow trail for tractors and farm implements up through the corn to the top of the ridge with white clouds billowing against the deep blue. Or the country road where we lived for a while — snow covered woods on one side and a lawn and fields on the other showing the snow covered stubble of the last corn harvest.

    Many of my dreams have been about roads. But these journeys are not always pleasant ones because I walk and walk and never seem to arrive — until I wake up later feeling the frustration.

    Roads take us places and away from other places. A few days ago I had some moments of intense clarity. I was thinking of the ways I could have gone in life, when suddenly all the roads I’ve taken came before me. The cut-offs; the dead-ends; the branches that led in a slightly different direction. I felt no guilt for the errors in direction because they were corrected and headed in a different way. It was an immense relief and as Marge would say “we’ve done good David.”

    This road is ending at a good place. We will find new ones to travel. And someday we will probably all meet up again.

    • David, thanks for all of your wisdom over the years.

      I don’t know if you’re a Grateful Dead fan (it’s never too late, and becoming one would not preclude wisdom) but this song by Jerry Garcia, only a few weeks before he died, works for me.

      “So many roads I tell you, so many roads I know. All I need is one to take me home.”
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sFyRQPraJ8

      I hope you continue with your photography. Some of your images are astonishing. Could you remind us of your web address before we close up shop?

  3. Iain Lovejoy says

    I’ve been an occasional visitor and occasional commentator to Internet Monk for a while; it’s been good and I will miss it and everyone. So long and thanks.

  4. And the name of Tolkien’s road: Immanuel.

  5. “So, on this bittersweet day, join me in taking a few moments to rejoice. Be gentle with yourself and others. Cast your worries on the Lord. Say a word of thanks when you pray. Receive his gift of peace. Above all, recognize that no journey is taken alone. Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

    Breathe. Take a quick look back and give thanks. And then, let us move forward in the peace of God that guards our lives in Christ.”

    Thank you Chaplain Mike for these two farewell paragraphs of blessing and commission which bought a lump to my throat (and I don’t cry easily). Thank you as well for everything else you’ve written here, and for the hours of work behind the scenes that you must have put into running Internet Monk. You’ve earned your rest now.

  6. “So it goes.”

    “Poo-tee-weet?”

    • Apparently.

      • Slaughterhouse-Five (or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death): Another road, making with Tolkien’s Road a dual routing on the same path across the same terrain, seen with different eyes. Tell me: which way of seeing is correct? Which eyes have it? Even if we had a seance to contact William Blake (that great cartographer of paradoxes) , and put the question to him, he would give us a question back:

        “Tyger tyger, burning bright,/ In the forests of the night;/ What immortal hand or eye,/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry?….What the hammer? what the chain,/ In what furnace was thy brain?/ What the anvil? what dread grasp,/ Dare its deadly terrors clasp!/ — When the stars threw down their spears/ And water’d heaven with their tears:/ Did he smile his work to see?/ Did he who made the lamb make thee?”

      • “There is a Hand to turn the time,
        Though thy Glass today be run,
        Till the Light that hath brought the Towers low
        Find the last poor Pret’rite one…
        Till the Riders sleep by ev’ry road,
        All through our crippl’d Zone,
        With a face on ev’ry mountainside,
        And a Soul in ev’ry stone….”

        — conclusion of Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

  7. “The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous ‘turn’ (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale – or otherworld – setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

    J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-stories

    _____________________________________________

    The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down
    You can’t let go and you can’t hold on
    You can’t go back and you can’t stand still
    If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will

    Won’t you try just a little bit harder
    Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?
    Won’t you try just a little bit harder
    Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

    Round, round robin run round, got to get back where you belong
    Little bit harder, just a little bit more
    A little bit further than you gone before

    The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down
    You can’t let go and you can’t hold on
    You can’t go back and you can’t stand still
    If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will

    Small wheel turning by the fire and rod
    Big wheel turning by the grace of God
    Every time that wheel turn ’round
    Bound to cover just a little more ground

    The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down
    You can’t let go and you can’t hold on
    You can’t go back and you can’t stand still
    If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will

    Won’t you try just a little bit harder
    Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?
    Won’t you try just a little bit harder
    Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

    ______________________________________

    Again, thank you CM for keeping the legacy alive. Thank you to all of you who through the years through your interactions have made this place alive and wonderful.

    tom

  8. New Year’s Day —
    bright moonlight in my kitchen,
    on a clear morning

  9. senecagriggs says

    2020 is behind us. I trust God to see me thru to my appointed hour. Have care I-monk friends.

  10. Deep into the night, silence pronounced and clear
    Vision turns to fright, a heart of wonder feels a pang of fear
    But you speak without a word, pure intent known by intent
    A quantum shadow of you here, felt in a wisp of where you went
    Where you went

    That’s the first verse of a song I’m writing called The Journey. It reflects my first encountering of Christ. Oddly enough, it seems appropriate for the end of this particular journey. An echo of you all will be felt in the occasional heavenly wisp. Adieu. Farewell. Bonsoir. Aloha. Vaya con Dios. Goodbye my friends. Thank you Mike and company. Till we meet face to face.

  11. “All the affirmations to God as creator and designer are fine, but it is as the God of the dying that the Christian has a testimony to give that absolutely no one else can give.

    We need to remember that each day dying people are waiting for the word of death and RESURRECTION.

    If Christianity is not a dying word to the dying, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.”

    “If for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are the most to be pitied.”

    Something vital (pun intended) to remember as the virus continues to rage.

  12. CM, and others, thanks for keeping things going for an additional ten years. This is the only blog I have ever regularly commented on and I will miss the interaction and discussion of topics I don’t get to discuss much anywhere else. Again, thank you.

    “So, on this bittersweet day, join me in taking a few moments to rejoice. Be gentle with yourself and others. Cast your worries on the Lord. Say a word of thanks when you pray. Receive his gift of peace. Above all, recognize that no journey is taken alone. Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.”

    That’s a beautiful word to end things on. I pray we all have a better 2021 and find ourselves drawing closer to Christ with every step we take.

  13. Thank, CM, for all you’ve done. Godspeed.

  14. A sad day. I’m pretty sure all souls will meet again, if not in this life then in the next.

  15. Before I forget: to everyone without exception I want to wish a Happy New Year!

  16. A few years ago now, Robert F. once quoted to me the line, “All is grace.”

    The line is from Diary of a Country Priest. The one who spoke in the novel was dying, in a little out of the way place. So perhaps this is a fitting final post.

    But they are also true at all times. They did me some real good. So I’ll repeat them back, and let them echo the halls:

    All is grace. All is grace.

    • Hi, Danielle. Those words as I have them in my English translation are, “Grace is everywhere.” But I had read in a secondary source about Georges Bernanos, the novelist who wrote Diary of a Country Priest, that the entire translation is deficient; the British critic who wrote that book gave as an example this line, but without providing a translation of it his own. Somehow I knew what he meant, though I know only English; so, without any French, I translated the words in a way I was certain must be true to the novelist Georges Bernanos’ intent. Can you imagine the foolish temerity it takes to translate from a language one knows nothing of! Yet I stand by my translation. Lol!

      • Stand by it! I don’t speak French, so I can’t evaluate anyone else’s translation from it. But here’s something interesting: Before Bernanos wrote “tout est grace,” St. Therese said it. It is in her Conversations. And devotees of the little flower seem to have transported her meaning into English as “everything is grace” and “all is grace.”

        Is there any reason to translate Bernanos’ use of the same three words differently? Well, I don’t know, but I’ll wager you are close to the spirit of what he meant. 🙂

    • It pleases me to learn that those words did you good, Danielle.

      All is grace.

  17. The other CM bids his leave and offers this famous quote:

    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
    One equal temper of herioc hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

  18. One of the people who helped me earlier on in my faith journey shared that his favorite words in Scripture were “But God…”. These mere two words have ironically often served as a source of encouragement over the years, perhaps because of their utter simplicity. In particular, in the context of Ephesians 2:1-4, where a seemingly hopeless narrative is building about being dead in sin, etc., , to then see verse 4 begin with the words “But God” is such a reassuring sight; a source of light in the midst of darkness. May it be for everyone else going forward on their journeys from here, being reminded that this is not the end and the best is truly yet to come.

    [v. 1-7: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.]

  19. I have read the postings everyday for about nine years. Thank you, so much, for the concepts of Jesus shaped living, the Bible being about Jesus, the Kingdom of God on earth right now, personal brokenness, loving others regardless of who or what they are, liturgy, word and sacrament. I found the post as a very frustrated independent, fundamentalist Baptist in a terribly depressed state of mind. The fight in my soul can be agonizing but I know now that I am not alone. We pray often, “Lord have mercy!”. Many days He has answered that prayer here. May God bless you Chaplain Mike, We are all grateful for your life and work.

  20. Klasie Kraalogies says

    I think I’d rather be quiet today. But I’ll leave you all with 3 Marcus Aurelius quotes:

    “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
    ? Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

    “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
    ? Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
    ? Marcus Aurelius

  21. I’m a longtime occasional reader, and even more occasional commenter here at imonk. This site, now that I think about it, was very important for me as I underwent the deconstruction of my evangelical faith, around ten years ago. I am grateful for being gifted the term ‘post-evangelical’, and for the knowledge that there were others for whom the evangelical church did not work.

    Since then, I have appreciated the sanity expressed here, on the blog and in the comments, and will often scroll down to find the comments, and distinct voices of a number of commenters.

  22. Ryan N Spooner says

    I have visited here for many years and have always felt less lonely when I did. Thanks for all your work.

  23. br. thomas says

    Another offering for this community by John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us, “Beyond Endings”:

    –Experience has its own secret structuring. Endings are natural. Often what alarms us as ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey – a new beginning that we could never be anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart. Due to the current overlay of therapy terminology in our language, everyone now seems to wish for “closure.” This word is unfortunate, it is not faithful to the open-ended rhythm of experience. Creatures made of clay with porous skin and porous minds are quite incapable of the hermetic sealing that the strategy of “closure” seems to imply. The word completion is a truer word. … When the person manage to trust experience and be open to it, the experience finds its own way to realization. Though such an ending may be awkward and painful, there is a sense of wholesomeness and authenticity about it. Then the heart will gradually find that this stage has run its course and the ending is substantial and true. Eventually the person emerges with a deeper sense of freedom, certainty and integration.–

  24. Thanks to all who contributed to The Internet Monk, especially the late Michael Spencer and Chaplain Mike. Your posts have blessed me and helped me grow spiritually. I will miss the daily posts. God bless all of you!

  25. Thank you Chaplain Mike and all who have worked so hard to make this site what it has been. I’ve learned such a lot from the writers and commentators here though rarely commented myself. A forgotten old English word has been circulating recently on Twitter – ‘respair’, meaning recovery and renewed hope. I pray for respair for those in the Imonk community who are struggling, and for our world.

    • Pellicano Solitudinis says

      That’s a good word; thank you for sharing it. It reminds me of Tolkien’s “Aure entuluva” – day will come again.

  26. Thanks again, Chaplain Mike, for everything you’ve done to keep this blog going for the last 10 years. Godspeed!

  27. John Royse says

    Thank you all for being part of my journey.

    I’ll let the words of the prophet, Bruce Cockburn be my finale:

    “There’s roads and there’s roads
    And they call, can’t you hear it?
    Roads of the earth
    And roads of the spirit
    The best roads of all
    Are the ones that aren’t certain
    One of those is where you’ll find me
    Till they drop the big curtain”

  28. Susan Dumbrell says

    Thank you Chaplain Mike.
    Grace and Peace be yours..
    Susan

  29. I’ve been a daily visitor since back in 2005. I’ve rarely commented. – I’ve been more of the quiet guest standing in the corner with a glass of champagne. All the best to you, CM, as you move into the next stage. And all the best to all of the voices who have made this a community… both those who have been regular commenters and those have just passed by. It has been a pleasure and an honor to travel this road with you.

  30. What a journey all this has been. I am a fundamentally different person than the one who first stumbled into this stream 14 years ago. I knew it had to end sometime. And I was already saddened by my inability to participate due to a growing family, demanding job, and challenging graduate studies.

    I first encountered Spencer as I was beginning to find my way into the wilderness. As dissatisfaction with Evangelicalism was growing in my subconscious, I began seeking out resources on Zen spirituality to supplement my soul’s nourishment. Spencer’s podcast came up under a search for “monk.”

    I owe a lot to the community and discussion I found here. My mind was opened to a wider world of Christian understanding, and I had the chance to interact with a more diverse spectrum of believers (and not!) than I ever had before. These discussions, arguments and debates even, help refine my critical thinking and test the waters on different perspectives.

    I don’t know if you’d necessarily say that I am one of the “success stories,” as clearly the call for some is to continue wandering, but I have completely found my way out of the wilderness, into a room in which I am genuinely comfortable. My family has found a spiritual home where we have been welcomed and can continue to grow our roots. I knew the journey had found a resting place when, recently, it occurred to me that I no longer define myself in opposition to the things I ran from in Evangelicalism, but rather, have come to be characterized by an alternate spiritual identity with its own parameters, to the extent that I can once again sympathize, to some extent, with the experiences of those who embrace the tradition I fled.

    Spencer’s quote about Christianity being a dying word has probably been the most influential sentence altering the trajectory of my life. As someone who trades in the music of spirituality, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of resisting a drastic change in direction.

    I have met many people through this blog that I am still in touch with, some more regularly than others, off-site (so to speak). The friendships I have developed which began here and the exploratory conversations had have been extraordinarily meaningful to me. The graciousness of Chaplain Mike to host some of my rantings and ramblings made significant strides in connecting me with the members of my new “tribe,” introducing me to a world of new colleagues who have become dear friends.

    There is so much I have to be grateful for. It was no small task for Chaplain Mike to keep the work going for so long. The hours and hard work to compose all the articles, administrate the technical end, and moderate the discussions was, IMO, nothing short of Herculean. Thank you, well done, and bravo.

    I’ll always remember the gracious pushback from the many good people with whom I enjoyed rather spirited disagreements or gleaned critical insights. Mike Bell, Robert F., HUG, Numo, Rick Ro., Daniel Jepsen, Tokah, David Cornwell, Damaris, Dana Ames, Radagast, Mule, and the many others who could take as well as they could give. I have missed engaging with you all long before this was announced.

    I look forward to meeting you all eventually, it not here, then upon another shore and in a greater light, where Mike Bell and I finally agree on everything.

  31. Chaplain Mike-

    It saddens me that this is the last day of IM. To be honest I can’t imagine the internet without IM. I was pretty loud, rough, and difficult when I commented here. I appreciated your posts and your insight into the issues of evangelicalism. What I endured, I realized over time, many others have as well. For that I have a deep admiration and respect for you. I know that all projects can’t go on forever and that you have to do what is best, and yet its hard to see this day arrive. I hope you enjoy the free time and that you find your groove in a new way. If you ever make it out to the Washington, D.C. area I would love to buy you a coffee or sandwich as a way to say thanks. IM was my home for years. That is why I reacted with grief when I saw that you were winding this blog down. I wish you the best and from one traveler to another, please take care. You are loved and appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Eagle (David Bonner)

  32. Thank you, Chaplain Mike, for the incredible amount of work you have done all these years in writing and managing this forum for Christian reflection. This blog has been a regular, usually daily stop in my internet wandering. I found the blog when a friend told me of the writings of the great Michael Spencer, about four years before his passing, a loss I feel to this day.

    As a long time lurker who rarely commented, I will miss this site more than I can say. I will especially miss the writing of Chaplain Mike, particularly on grief, Mike the Geologist, Daniel Jepsen’s Saturday compilations and the observations of a host of commentators including Dana and Rick Ro. I will particularly miss Robert F, who has touched me thru his poetry and his witness to faith in the face of anxiety, loss, self-doubt, and loneliness. I resonate with some of his theological reflections, and am grateful for his writing, despite our political differences.

    Grace and peace to Chaplain Mike and to all who have written and commented here. Blessings and a heartfelt thanks. You will be missed.

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